(Author’s Note: This is my last blog entry of 2020 and the last chapter of BROKEN. I am honored you have followed this story. Thank you, Dear Readers.)
Night shadowed the small party of investigators by the river. Storm clouds wrestled, throwing spears of lightning. A cold rain was set to dump on Detroit and the surrounding area. Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson stood over the shallow grave of a teenager as the ME and her team exhumed him.
Lordy, she needed a vacation. For the third time, in less than two weeks, she stood by the river staring at another dumped soul that had found him or herself in the deadly aftermath of a criminal act. Three bodies, three cases strung together by the mishaps of a single boy. It hardly seemed believable.
Cadaver dogs had pinpointed this grave using information provided by Jack’s runaway son. Jon and the undercover agent known as Rat Snatcher had done what they could in a grotesquely out-of-control situation. They buried young Lincoln in a beautiful spot overlooking this goddamned river. What was it about this pair of rival gangs that used the river as their dumping ground?
The department could not arrest the men responsible for the death of Lincoln. Charlie Marchesi was an ex mob boss in Witness Protection. They could not arrest him, or his son, Evan Fischer, for child endangerment or murder. Nor could they arrest Rat Snatcher, who also worked for Marchesi, though he was an undercover agent for the FBI. The FBI had jurisdiction and had taken over those cases. Detroit PD couldn’t seek justice from Allessandro Santorini, Marchesi’s right hand man, even though he had organized Lincoln’s rape. Santorini was lying in their morgue, shot by rival gang members. She guessed they would soon find out if Santorini had brutality killed Lincoln, or if he had died of a heart problem, as Snatcher explained to Jon.
Maureen ran Lincoln’s name through missing persons’ records but could not find him. It probably wasn’t his name. She suspected most of the teens embroiled in the dark world of sex trafficking and illegal fight clubs used aliases. Jonathan did. Why wouldn’t Lincoln? Now that she would have a chance to run fingerprints there was a greater chance they would identify him. She would keep looking, for Jonathan’s sake, but she knew in her gut that Lincoln had died anonymously and would remain so.
A sharp breeze blew the hem of her coat. She looked at the darkened sky. Her team needed to hustle before the storm hit them. “Let’s get Lincoln out of bed,” she said. So much had happened to bring them to this place.
As the ME pulled Lincoln’s body from the shallow trench and carefully set him upon the tarp, she thought about the young Taiwanese man left to rot by the river’s waters. This fiasco had started that night. Though she had no proof, Evan Fischer, or someone associated with him, shanked the boy from Taiwan in a dirty fight and dumped him. Like Lincoln, he would remain anonymous, but his journey had been different. He had most likely been lured by the promise of a glorious fighting career, taken from his home in Taiwan to the city of Detroit. Now he would be forgotten. She was still piecing together possible stories about him. Either he had been sent by the infamous Morelli brothers, suspected of human trafficking but slippery as eels, or had volunteered for increased status within their organization to punish Evan Fischer for impregnating their sister, Sobrina.
The same night Maureen stood over the young Taiwanese man’s body, Evan’s grandmother reported him missing. Was it coincidence that she called Jack Tyler to take the missing person’s call on the same night Jack’s son, Jonathan Tyler, had stepped off a bus and walked into the unfolding drama between the missing and the dead. You couldn’t make this shit up. No one would believe it.
Jon huddled against his father where they stood nestled under a tree about twenty-five yards from the burial site. Jack didn’t want his son to see or smell the gruesomeness that was sure to follow as they exhumed his friend’s body. Maureen would just as soon they leave, but Jon was adamant. Something inside him needed to see it through, to see his friend taken care of correctly. She hoped it would give him some closure for this nightmare.
The ME guessed that death had occurred at least six days ago. She collected insect evidence and soil samples to help confirm her guess. It was illegal to bury a body this way, but Maureen didn’t plan to process Jonathan for this one. She suspected that in some twisted way, Agent Phillip Morris, aka Rat Snatcher, was trying to protect Jon by not reporting Lincoln’s demise to his superiors, though she didn’t see how any of this could have reflected upon Jon. Maybe there just hadn’t been the time, but obviously, Snatcher had not told the FBI, or they would have found traces but not Lincoln’s body. People did weird shit when they were desperate. She’d probably never understand all that had happened.
Jon had recognized the man who beat him up in a line of purported Morelli henchmen. The guy had stupidly worn a plaid shirt to the lineup, and that caught Jon’s attention. The tip offs were the boots that Jon had memorized as the man hauled him to the garbage bin, and a large ring he wore on his finger. Maureen had photo evidence of an imprint the ring made above Jon’s eye.
Because he identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered the hit, a troop of uniformed cops were currently approaching his reported residence. She expected to hear from them any moment now.
The ME approached her. “We are ready to move him.”
“Good. Let’s do it.” She walked over to Jack and his son. “The next stop for Lincoln is the morgue. The ME will perform an autopsy. He’ll be cleaned up and held until we can identify his true identity.”
“You will look for his family?” said Jon.
“Yes. I will personally let you know if we find them. You two should get home before the storm lands on top of us.”
“Thank you, Maureen,” said Jack.
Social Services had decided it was in Jon’s best interest to stay out of the system until the courts determined the outcomes of his charges. Meghan lost it when they awarded Jack temporary custody. She had conveniently packed their divorce papers and pulled it out so they could see the custody agreement. She threatened to take Jack and Social Services, if necessary, to court. The caseworker would not back down. Evidently, a hotel room situation was not as secure as Jack’s apartment situation, and Jack was a valued citizen of Detroit and therefore trusted.
Meghan tried to use Jack’s OCD against him, but Social Services didn’t buy it. Her son had run away from home three times, a dilemma that they couldn’t reconcile without more research.
“I want to see your so-called apartment,” she had demanded. What did she expect? That he lived in squalor?
Jack invited her and Phillip to join him for lunch. Jon wouldn’t be released until that evening. It gave him plenty of time to quell her fears.
Meghan sashayed in with an air of disdain. She slowly walked from room to room. She opened the refrigerator. She opened every cupboard and closet. She finally sat on the couch and ran her hands across the fabric on the arm. “I guess this place is okay.”
“Be fair, Meg. This is a nice apartment,” said Phillip as he sat in the easy chair to the left of her. “And it is secure with a twenty-four hour concierge service.”
“I’m going to order lunch and have it delivered,” said Jack. “What would you like?”
They settled on Thai food.
“He was bullied at school,” Jack said.
“Oh, bullied. He was picked on. The kid’s too sensitive,” scoffed Meghan.
Phillip didn’t disagree, but he had set up mixed martial arts lessons for Jon and had encouraged him to join a club at school.
Meghan said, “Phil set up a practice floor in the garage. We tried to toughen him up.”
Jack sighed. Would he have done the same if he had remained in Jon’s life? “The bullying was worse than he led you to believe. I don’t think he told Rick how bad it was. I don’t believe Hank knew either,” said Jack.
It saddened him that Jon had not felt comfortable enough to tell anyone how bad it was. From Meghan and Phillip’s comments, he was not sure they would have listened. He would be happy if Jon didn’t return to California.
“What’s next?” said Phillip.
Meghan was quick to explain. “His case will be adjudicated in a special court because he has been charged as a minor. He’ll most likely be placed in a safe house, here in Michigan.”
Worst case scenario was that he would be assigned to a Detention Center. The thought made Jack sick. The possibility of his son being placed in a safe house when he could stay with an actual parent wasn’t much better.
Meghan and Phillip went to the hospital to say goodbye to Jon as he was released into Jack’s custody. Jack was pleased that Meghan held herself together. Jon didn’t whine, he didn’t gaze sadly as they drove away, he seemed content, perhaps because at that point, he was resigned to his fate, but he had a smile on his face when Jack drove him to the apartment. Jon seemed settled as he curled up on Jack’s couch and watched TiVo after dinner.
That night, after Jon went to sleep, Jack sat at the end of the bed and watched him breathe, so grateful that he was alive. Many homeless children didn’t live through the experience. Rick, Jon’s older brother, was right to worry about him becoming a statistic. He was broken to be sure, but not another number on a death list.
He stood and straightened the blanket around his son’s shoulders and padded to the living room.
He picked up his phone and punched in Tom’s number.
Tom picked up on the third ring. “Hey.”
“Were you asleep?”
“Dozing. There isn’t much else to do when one is confined as a convalescent.”
“Just a few more days.”
“Three. Three more days, if physical therapy goes well. How is the kiddo?”
“Sleeping. Social Services trusted me enough to let him stay here until his case comes up.”
“Pssht. I guess you better take time off. Don’t let him out of your sight.”
“I don’t think he is going to be running again anytime soon.”
“How are you doing, Jack?”
“I don’t know. Exhausted, I guess. I still haven’t recovered from our last case.”
“I know. We need a vacation after this.”
“You’ve had a vacation.”
“This is not a vacation. It’s hard getting well.”
Jack laughed, but it really was no laughing matter. It was hard recovering from injuries as serious as Tomi’s were. Jack then said, “I’m going to apply for custody.”
Tom was quiet.
“Are you there?”
“I can’t stand the thought of him being in a detention center.”
“He’s only fifteen. They’ll put him in a safe house with people trained to help him.”
“My OCD will factor into their decision. I want to claim you as my second.”
“You’ve thought a lot about this.”
“He thought I left because I didn’t love him. I left because I did love him.”
“So think about that, Jack. Love him and think about what is best for the both of you.”
Tears filled Jack’s eyes. He let them fall.
“If I was with you, I would wipe those damn tears off your face,” said Tom.
“How did you know?”
“No worries. I’m not getting your psychic shit. I can hear it in your voice.”
Jack chuckled. “I don’t know if I can visit tomorrow.”
“I’m fine. My niece and nephew have worn me out. I’m pretty sure they plan to come tomorrow again.”
“If I can, I will, too. I’ll bring Jon if he is up to it.”
“Don’t force him. We don’t even know what we are, yet.”
“Good night, Jack.”
“Good night, Tom.”
Tom was right. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. There was time to think about this decision. He did know one thing: He loved Jonathan and would do anything he had to, to protect him.
Jack checked the doors and shut off the lights. He checked Jon one more time. He settled into a sleeping bag at the base of his bedroom door so he would wake easily if his son needed him. He hadn’t been a father for most of Jon’s life, but he could start now by standing guard every night for as long as necessary.
His runaway days were over.
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